Enamored by the Bee

Published 4:30 pm Friday, June 1, 2018

came home Thursday afternoon for what was supposed to be a quick bite to eat.

After making a sandwich and settling in on the couch, I found the National Spelling Bee on ESPN.

Sure, I’ll watch a little bit of this. Why not? An hour later, I was still there, glued to the television, amazed with how poised some of these kids are on the biggest stage of their young lives.

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Each had their own quirks and methods to crack the spelling. Some scribble the word on the back of their name tags or their arm, other type it in front of them on an invisible keyboard. Some hyperventilate when they get hit with a word they aren’t familiar with, others ask for the definition 10 times. But right when time is winding down, and you think a kid is done for…


They spell the word perfectly and go back to their seat, receiving a wave of high-fives from the other contestants. My favorite was when one kid began to spell his word, you could see another kid sitting down behind him nodding his head in approval with every letter. When the speller got the thumbs up from the judges, the kid in the background seemed more excited, pumping his fists for knowing the word himself.

It can be tough watching others get the word wrong, too. A girl had asked for the language of origin for a word. The judges told her it was Italian, cuing her in to a specific arrangement of letters unique to that language. You could visibly see her confidence rise. This word must be spelled in that unique way! Except this word happened to be one of the few exceptions to the rule. She got it wrong, and her face was a combination of baffled and humiliated. When she learned it was actually a “ch” instead of a “q”, she politely thanked the judges and sauntered off the stage.

It’s a brutal world up there.

By the time I realized I had to hurry back to the office, there were 17 contestants left on the stage. Later that night, 14-year-old Karthik Nemmani spelled “Koinonia” to win it all. He stood on stage, smiling bashfully as the lights flashed and the crowd roared. He won $40,000 in money and prizes, all for studying the dictionary like it was his job.

I don’t think I could have that level of perseverance to study words, but you got to admire the ones who do.